The differences between parties and pressure groups is, on paper, a simple one to make – parties run for office, PGs do not; parties are multi-issue, PGs are not; anyone can join a party, some PGs are exclusive…and so on. In reality however, the distinction is less clear and this is often the subject of exam questions – what are the grey areas?
This week, UKIP has presented us with an interesting example. On starting out, it was reasonably easy to argue that UKIP was more of a pressure group than a party, focussing on the single issue of Europe and standing little chance of gaining seats. However after ‘winning’ the 2014 European elections and gaining 4 million votes in the 2015 General Election, it was more clear that they were on the ‘party’ side of this spectrum, despite only gaining one seat. However, at the conference this week, Farage has said that his focus now is the EU referendum – “UKIP is not my priority at the moment. I might be leader of it but my priority is fighting this national referendum and winning.” This statement seems more fitting with the aims of a pressure group rather than a party. Couple this with the lack of success in terms of seats in the 2015 and an astute student could argue that this shows that UKIP are acting more like a pressure group than a party but that the distinction between these two is not as clear cut as it initially seems.
Either way, I would urge students to see the party/pressure group distiction as a spectrum with ‘party’ at one end and ‘pressure group’ at the other, rather than simply a black-and-white-categorisation.